Tuesday, 17/9/2019 | 7:04 UTC+0
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Top Picks: Arms boom, Chinese emissions, and Africa's Great Green Wall

Welcome to IRIN’s weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.

Six to read:

China and renewable energy – can growth be maintained?

China is the largest greenhouse gas polluter – its annual emissions accounted for almost 30 percent of the global total in 2014, more than the United States and the EU combined – so efforts to curb its soaring emissions will play a big role in tackling climate change.

In recent years, the Chinese government has paid greater attention to global warming. It has pledged to peak its emissions by 2030, partly by increasing the share of non-fossil fuel energy to more than 20 percent. On the face of it, this seems achievable. During China’s 11th and 12th Five-Year Plans between 2005 and 2015, the country transformed itself into the largest investor in renewable energy sectors in the world. However, even after this decade of enormous wind and solar development, renewables made up less than 2 percent of the national energy mix by 2014. So can it make it?

This IDS report investigates the changes in China’s wind and solar energy policies, and argues that since late 2012 a “new policy paradigm has been taking shape”, due to a series of external and internal shocks. “These policy changes will have a tremendous impact on how China is going to further develop its renewable energy sector,” it notes. The crucial factor: whether an earlier coalition of local governments, banks and grid companies can hold together.

Is PTSD a physical rather than psychological condition?

Soldiers coming home from World War I – the first conflict in which TNT was used extensively – exhibited a type of psychological stress that had never been known before and was dubbed “shell shock”. The condition was noted during all major wars that followed, although the terminology changed to “combat fatigue” and finally to “post traumatic stress disorder”. Scientists are now uncovering evidence that the original name may have been more accurate than was known at the time. This New York Times Magazine piece profiles neuropathologist Daniel Perl and others at the leading edge of research, which shows that explosions can cause visible scarring to the brain. The effects of the injury include “memory loss, cognitive problems, inability to sleep and profound, often suicidal depression”. Many in the military medical community have resisted such findings, but if the research is right, PTSD in soldiers is often the result of physical damage to the brain caused by blast exposure, rather than emotional trauma.

How to understand ISIS

When so-called Islamic State came trouncing through Iraq in 2014, taking Fallujah in January and then large swathes of the country, it seemed almost to have come out of the ether. But as the battle rages once again in Fallujah, it’s an apt moment to take stock of how we got here. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Malise Ruthven reminds us that while IS and the Middle East’s current chaos have complex origins, it’s still worth seeking answers. No, it’s not all America’s fault, but as Fawaz Gerges explains in his new ISIS: A History, the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent de-Baathification of the country’s security forces had a major part to play. And yes, it’s about religion, but it’s not really. In The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East, Marc Lynch argues that sectarian divisions are driven much more by post-“Arab Spring” power plays than by ancient hatred. Neither of these books will be easy reading. But as the aftermath of Fallujah looks ever more desperate, with Iraq’s political system reeling and the battle of Mosul still ahead, learning some lessons from the past is hardly just academic.

Displaced, but does anyone care?

Ahead of World Refugee Day on Monday, the Norwegian Refugee Council has released its annual list of the 10 most neglected displacement crises around the world. The criteria for inclusion: a lack of political will to find a solution to a crisis, or a lack of financial support to adequately help those affected. Prolonged displacement crises in particular get little media coverage, and funding for humanitarian aid usually dries up. This year’s list includes the multiple and interlinked conflicts causing displacement and food insecurity across the Sahel region, the 21.2 million people in need of humanitarian help in Yemen, the escalating chaos in Libya, and the intractable situation of stateless Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Global arms sales explode

Arms sales hit a record-breaking $65 billion in 2015, according to this annual report from Jane’s. “The global defence trade market has never seen an increase as large as the one we saw between 2014 and 2015,” says Ben Moores, senior analyst at IHS, in a rather buoyant press release. Middle Eastern countries purchased the most weapons and Saudi Arabia topped the list of arms importers at more than $9 billion, well ahead of second-place India with $4.3 billion. Territorial disputes over the South China Sea fuelled a 71-percent increase in arms purchases in the region between 2009 and 2016. The US continued its climb as the world’s undisputed biggest arms exporter with $22.9 billion worth of sales in 2015, up from $18.3 billion in 2013, and $12.9 billion in 2009. Russia followed with $7.4 billion last year; Germany, France and the UK rounded out the top five. Canada trailed closely behind with $3.1 billion in sales, which made it the second largest exporter to the Middle East. The report’s prediction for next year is good or bad news, depending which side of the issue you’re on: 2016 will likely set a new record, with $69 billion in arms sales expected.

Can we stop talking about “youth”?

Fed up of being told that children are the future? How about the de rigueur focus on “youth” by the aid industry? We are perpetually told they are “at risk”, or that the so-called “demographic bulge” is an “opportunity”. Welcome Philip Mader with this blog post and some basic but pertinent questions.

For one, who exactly are “the youth”? Given that an estimated three quarters of Africa’s population are under 35, and that 40 percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 35, does it make sense for policies and programmes to specifically target a separate “youth” population? How many issues are actually youth-specific (and not part of a wider problem)? Are we in danger of superimposing Eurocentric images of youth onto other societies?

“Good policies will involve not just employing the concept of ‘youth’, but also disentangling and problematising it, with more thinking along the lines, for instance, of ‘How to ensure that young, rural married women from disadvantaged backgrounds can participate, and benefit from this intervention?’, and less ‘How can we focus this on youth?’, or ‘How can we bring youth into the picture?’”, the blog concludes.

One to watch:

Expanding Africa’s Great Green Wall

Ever wondered what the Great Green Wall – the barricade of trees being built across Sahelian countries to hold the desert at bay – actually looks like, or, if you’re very cynical, whether it exists at all? Well, here’s some evidence at last from the FAO. Join Doctor Moctar Sacande as he works with communities in Niger to explore their needs and garners their support for making degraded areas productive again.

One from IRIN:

An ethical failure

Last week, we featured the resignation from the UN of Anders Kompass, the veteran Swedish diplomat who blew the whistle on the sexual abuse of children as young as eight by peacekeepers in Central African Republic. This week, we’re on similar turf, only this time Kompass is outlining in fascinating detail the reasons behind his resignation. In an exclusive op-ed, he excoriates the world body for its failure to live up to the noble principles it is meant to uphold. “The UN’s accountability system is broken. It simply doesn’t work,” he writes.

Kompass is rightly aggrieved at the way he was treated for simply passing documents on to the French authorities so they could investigate a major sexual abuse scandal. But it is his portrayal of a wider culture of fear within the organisation that is more worrying. “To make matters worse,” he writes, “those who take an ethical but unpopular stance, including by reporting the misconduct of others, have learned that the pain of disclosure and retaliation far exceeds any benefit”. Leaking is therefore the only way forward, but instead of welcoming whistleblowing to strengthen the institution, Kompass says “the UN promotes an atmosphere of fear and marginalises individuals seen as not toeing the line.” His grim account of a culture of craven impunity within the UN makes for uncomfortable but essential reading.

Coming up:

World Refugee Day

To coincide with World Refugee Day on Monday, the UN refugee agency will release its annual Global Trends Report, with detailed figures on forced displacement during 2015. It’s expected to be another record-breaking year for numbers of refugees and internally displaced. Keep an eye out for the special in-depth page on our website, featuring the best of our refugee coverage from around the world over the past 12 months.

The Global Trends Report should be available here from 0500 GMT.

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